Eric Pickens likes numbers because they tell a story — perhaps about what makes a business succeed or fail, or why a particular stock fluctuates in price.
The college senior scribbled down some figures as he considered a problem on risk and return during his investment class inside the Wells Fargo Finance Education Center at Harris-Stowe State University, the only historically black college or university (HBCU) in St. Louis.
“What is your holding period of return?” asked Dr. Robert Kamkwalala, associate professor of finance and business administration, directing all eyes from the dual-screen monitors and stock prices ticker to the whiteboard. “Can you calculate it?”
The Wells Fargo Finance Center at Harris-Stowe joins a growing number of business school labs that offer trading platforms, student-managed funds, and other real-world experiences to better prepare students for careers in finance.
According to Rise Display, which tracks college finance labs, about 355 of the 1,722 U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities offering business degrees have finance labs. Only 10 percent of those finance labs are at HBCUs.
Wells Fargo contributed $250,000 to build and outfit the finance lab at Harris-Stowe, which opened in February, as part of the company’s efforts to increase opportunities for all students and increase diversity within the investment field.
‘This could be a game changer in St. Louis’
Throughout its 160-year history, Harris-Stowe has provided an affordable education to students in St. Louis trying to escape poverty. More than 80 percent of its students are African American, and most are the first in their families to attend college, said Dr. Dwaun Warmack, the university’s president. He added that the majority are also eligible for federal tuition support based on income.
Warmack successfully pushed the legislature to change a Missouri law that, until just last year, prohibited Harris-Stowe from offering graduate programs. The university will offer its first graduate courses this fall or next spring. The Wells Fargo Finance Education Center, Warmack said, is part of his vision to open doors to high-paying careers in which African Americans typically are underrepresented.
“This could be a game changer in St. Louis,” Warmack said. “Generally, when you look at finance, when you look at trading, those are not fields highly populated with African Americans. This relationship will allow us to train an underrepresented, underserved population to go into that field.”
Wells Fargo’s history with Harris-Stowe
The center builds on the university’s long relationship with Wells Fargo Advisors, headquartered just two blocks away.
Wells Fargo Advisors team members have led resume-writing workshops for Harris-Stowe students and hosted “Dress for Success” events — complete with fashion shows and clothes for job interviews — for more than 10 years.
Additionally, about 10 Harris-Stowe business students work at Wells Fargo Advisors each semester as interns, gaining experience in project management, compliance, accounting, and other areas.
“This is a dream come true for us,” said Dr. Fatemeh Zakery, dean of Harris-Stowe’s Anheuser-Busch School of Business. “We have collaborated with Wells Fargo over eight years on many projects. This is the cream of those projects.”
Developing ‘next-generation’ investment advisors
Pickens is eager to immerse himself — through the center — in the wide universe of stocks and bonds, indices, and finance modeling. This spring, his investment class will begin using the center as a trading floor to analyze live market data and build mock investment portfolios.
In addition to exposing more students like Pickens to financial careers, David Kowach, head of Wells Fargo Advisors, said he hopes the Wells Fargo Finance Education Center will recruit more millennials into investing careers.
“We’ve got a chance to develop a next-generation team member here,” Kowach said. “And frankly, we’ve got to add diversity to the brokerage business in numbers. This gives us a chance not only to educate students, but to help get them jobs.
“Financial advisors are retiring at a faster rate than they’re being hired,” he added. “In focusing on how to best serve the next generation of clients, financial firms are working to attract younger employees. University finance labs are part of that effort.”
Success stories from current Wells Fargo finance labs
Since the Wells Fargo Financial Markets Laboratory opened at San Diego State University in 2012, hundreds of students have learned financial market concepts and become certified to use its 12 Bloomberg terminals — gaining access along with faculty and alumni to databases not only offered by Bloomberg, but MSCI and others.
Advised by a faculty member who once managed a hedge fund, top graduate and undergraduate finance students have used the Lab to manage two equity funds worth nearly $300,000.
This kind of practical experience, as well as the Bloomberg certification, gives students an advantage when looking for jobs, said Dr. Mehdi Salehizadeh, a finance professor and department chair at San Diego State’s Fowler College of Business.
“That’s what they come back and tell us,” he said, supported by research from McMaster University reported in the winter 2015 Journal of Financial Education and other studies that show teaching centered around live trading increases student engagement levels. “More and more students are going directly into the financial institutions.”
For Pickens, the Wells Fargo Finance Education Center is another boost in a life and career plan that includes graduation from Harris-Stowe, a master’s degree, employment at a company like Wells Fargo, and launching his own company.
He plans to keep sharing everything he’s learned along the way.
“I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like when someone manages money incorrectly,” Pickens said. “I’ve also seen when someone manages it well. I want to learn strategies to help grow my income. Then I want to teach my kids and my family how to do it.”
Wells Fargo Advisors is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, separate registered broker-dealers and non-bank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.
Ray Volz produced the video for this story.